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Statement on the Tragedy in Dallas

Friday, July 8, 2016

Dear VCU and VCU Health Communities,

The horrific murder overnight of five Dallas police officers—and wounding of seven others—has shaken us all in indescribable ways. According to news reports, the shooters acted alone and were motivated to kill white people, especially white police officers. Reportedly, they were also angry at Black Lives Matter protesters, who were peacefully demonstrating after the police-involved deaths of two black men this week, for their lack of violent reprisal.

As the news broke this morning, I immediately thought of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King’s reminder that “Darkness cannot drive out darkness: only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate: only love can do that.”

No doubt, you have seen this quote today on your social media feed and in other places. And yet, for as many shares and likes as we may give it, it is an idea we are yet to practice. In the generations since Dr. King, our world still looks to answer hate with hate and violence with violence. We are still quick to castigate those with whom we disagree and we still answer tragedy with blame.

Indeed, the acts of violence we commit against each other seem to be the worst of their kind, fueled by the worst in us. Last night in Dallas was the deadliest single incident for law enforcement since the Sept. 11 attacks. Just weeks ago, we saw the deadliest mass shooting in our nation’s history at a LGBTQ nightclub in Orlando. Only months before that, at an office party in San Bernardino, Calif., came the deadliest act of terror in the United States since Sept. 11. Before that, the largest bombing attacks in France since World War II.

A lot of people are asking: What’s the world coming to? The answer is simple. The world will be whatever we make it. We should not feel helpless; indeed, the power is entirely ours. We can choose to reject the incendiary rhetoric, intolerance and violence that divides us, or continue to make the worst kind of history.

The world is looking for answers, for leadership. Let the world look to us.

One of the fundamental missions of a university is to advance the progress of humanity—for all people—through education, discovery, care and service. This is especially true here, where we are proudly inseparable and indistinguishable from the communities we serve.

The recent tragedies of our world remind us how important our work is. We are about more than social media activism; our focus is on changing the world in profound ways, to benefit every human being. Our work must be to ensure that the human experience is not defined by what we do to one another but rather what we do for one another.

As we once again look for ways to heal, let’s begin by moving beyond declarations and hashtags. Let’s come together for meaningful conversations, based on trust, that yield solutions. Let’s review the policies and guidelines that we put in place to govern us and ensure they include all our voices. Let’s build relationships, not barriers. We can start now, wherever we are; our students who are home for the summer can begin this work in their own communities.

Today, more than ever, I am grateful for the safety and peace of our campus, thanks to the tireless and courageous work of Chief John Venuti and the VCU Police Department; our partners in the Richmond Police Department; and the members of our campus and local communities who come together peacefully for progress, including a student-led demonstration in Monroe Park last night.

We live in unprecedented times, and we must provide unprecedented leadership. I am grateful for all of you who work every day to advance the very best of humanity through education, discovery, care and service and for whom the prospect of a better world for all of us is your unrelenting charge.

You inspire us all, today and always.


Michael Rao
VCU and VCU Health System